Neil Etheridge pre-match
Neil Etheridge suited up for the first time this season in Birmingham City’s 2-0 defeat to Fulham on Tuesday and although he was admittedly as disappointed as ever to have lost the game, the result mattered little to the shot-stopper in the grand scheme of things.
It was the 31-year-old’s first appearance for the Blues since being diagnosed with COVID-19 in early July and he admitted that he was beyond happy to even be standing on the turf of St Andrew’s again.
In an open and honest interview in front of the media, Etheridge reflected on his journey over the course of the last five weeks and began so by taking us back to the day of his initial diagnosis.
“The first day of pre-season you do tests and runs and everything - I felt fine,” explained the Blues keeper.
“We had a tough week in Troon and then I tested positive for COVID on the Friday before we traveled back.
“I travelled back alone on the Saturday with no symptoms and by the evening I felt achy and went to bed with sweats. For the next four days I had very strong flu symptoms.
“On the [following] Saturday I started to struggle more and the club doctor at Birmingham told me to go down to A&E. And let me just say a massive shout out to the NHS as they were very instrumental in me getting through what I had.”
The 31-year-old says his journey to hospital began as one of precaution but soon turned into one, that by his own admission, he started to believe may have been his last.
“I got put onto a ward. I watched the Euros final on the Sunday and on the Monday night going into Tuesday - as far as I know, I was asleep but I was rushed into the intensive care unit,” he said.
“I had so many needles and drugs going into me. I ended up on 80% oxygen. Any position I got into I was hyperventilating. I was concentrating on breathing which is something we just take for granted.
“I got to a stage where they had to tell me if it gets any worse I will have to be put to sleep with tubes down my throat in intensive care.
“It was scary. Everything was a struggle. I was so out of breath to a point of hyperventilating when I was sitting up.
“Everything goes out the window. You are literally bed-ridden. Concentrating on breathing. Pressing a button when I wanted to go to the toilet as I literally couldn’t do it. Someone had to help me or watch me walk to the bathroom so I didn’t collapse.”
Etheridge recently married his partner, Alexandra, whom is currently pregnant with their child and he admits it got to a stage where he feared leaving them both behind.
“I thought I wouldn’t pull through,” he said with tears in his eyes.
“We had just got married. We have a little one on the way. I just texted my wife and said I was scared and that’s when I think it hit home for a lot of people.
“When I started to get better, the doctors said it got to a stage where 18 months ago, ‘we don’t know whether we would have been able to keep you alive.’
When reflecting on his journey, the Filipino international says it’s taken a lot of work both physically and mentally to get to the stage he’s at and he doesn’t want the fact he played in a game against Fulham to overshadow the seriousness of his situation.
“Don’t think because I had what I had and I played a game five weeks later that it has been an easy ride,” he said.
“The club has been fantastic. Obviously I’m not at the end of the road yet. I’ve lost a lot of body weight. I don’t want people to think Neil had COVID and five weeks later he can play a game.
“It has taken a lot of long days and nights to get to this stage.”
Birmingham’s number one hadn’t been vaccinated at the time of contracting the coronavirus and admits he never had any intention to do so before falling ill.
Despite his traumatic ordeal and now taking the decision to get both jabs in the near future, he says his stance on the matter hasn’t really changed.
“I do still believe it’s pro choice and people need to do their own research,” he explained.
“To think I’m 30-years-old and it won’t affect me is completely wrong. Ultimately it’s a choice but I believe the choice needs to be made with as much information.
“Someone may have had COVID next to me and had absolutely no symptoms and then there’s me going through what I went through. We both go down as a statistic.
“I just think people should do their own research.”